Eyeing second spot on the ladder, you would think West Coast would be coming into this game pretty confident, but like many tipsters, I had my doubts about them. They still seem considerably less comfortable away from home (unlike Joe Hockey) and they were coming up against a Tiger team in good form.
A lot of the media focus during the week had been on the Tigers’ forward line which, in their last game, had ripped through the Dockers' defence like a Liberal government gutting public education. How the depleted Eagles defence would hold up and whether or not Jeremey McGovern would even play were important subplots leading into the game.
After an unusual introduction featuring Taiko drummers (who seemed to belong there as much as Legolas’ character in The Hobbit movies), the first quarter was pretty exciting. In what would quickly become a theme for the night, Nic Naitanui won the first tap to the advantage of his team and the ball was straight inside 50, where it was marked defensively. However the clearing kick was poor and the ball was straight back in where after a couple of stoppages, an errant Deledio handpass gave Sellwood a very gettable shot on goal. He missed, but the kick out was again marked by the Eagles and McGovern kicked it back to the goal square, where LeCras roved the ball and rolled it through from an angle.
The next centre bounce was also won convincingly by Naitanui, punching the ball forward into forward 50. Another quick kick forward saw two Tiger defenders fly for a ball and leave Kennedy standing alone in the square to pick up the ball and kick it through. The Eagles were flying (sorry couldn’t resist).
From this point the Tigers began to work their way back into the game. Swarming around the ball, the Eagles still looked to have the advantage around the stoppages, but when the ball broke down around their half forward line, the Tigers looked dangerous on the counterattack. Brandon Ellis (who looks like he should be in the Lego Movie) and Edwards were getting the ball streaking through the middle and had targets to kick to up forward. Unfortunately for the Tigers, execution of the final pass was about as reliable as the many attempted executions of James Bond and a lot of kicks were intercepted by the defence.
But it wasn’t just the Tigers guilty of turnovers. The Eagles were taking a lot of high risk options, some of which were coming off and others backfiring. Dustin Martin jumped over an Eagles player to mark a McGovern kick intended to switch play from defence. When his opponent did nothing to slow him down, Martin ran on through fifty and kicked the Tigers’ first goal.
A chain of handballs out of defence ended with Edwards running towards forward 50. He hit Griffiths with an excellent pass and the big forward went back and converted. Just as the Tigers looked to have reasserted themselves, the Eagles struck back with two goals through Naitanui. First he seemed to be outbodied by the mullet in a marking contest, only for Maric to fumble a ball he could have marked. Naitanui reacted quickly, tackling the Tigers ruckman, pouncing on the ball and goaling from close range. Shortly after he was awarded an incorrect free quick for being blocked at a ruck contest. When Chaplin gave the umpire some feedback about his decision making, he was penalised with a 50m which brought Naitanui to the goal square where he doubled his tally from point blank range.
At the other end, the Eagles’ defenders were working harder than Melbourne Storm’s bookkeepers. They were intercepting marks and getting across to make an extra player in marking contests wherever possible. When the ball spilled to ground at one point, Dustin Martin was quickly onto it and was hit high. The whistle blew, but once again Martin didn’t stop and took full advantage of the Eagles’ hesitation, straightening up and kicking his second. He could have had a third a moment later, as the Tigers won their first centre clearance and he marked the ball in the forward pocket, but missed the set shot.
Just before quarter time the Tigers goaled again after Vickery gathered a slightly wayward kick in his direction, fended off a Sellwood tackle and eluded a second player before hitting the player, Miles (note the all-importance comma), in front of goal. Miles duly converted and Eagles were leading by less than a goal at quarter time.
The second quarter followed a similar pattern to the first. The Tigers’ wayward kicking was still giving the ball away quicker than the Iraqi army gives US weapons away to ISIS, but when they did hit their targets, they made it look relatively simple to work through the Eagles press and find forwards in space.
The Eagles on the other hand were winning a lot more of the ball, but tended to struggle to create opportunities once the Richmond defence was set. They looked at their most dangerous around stoppages as this allowed them opportunities to lose their direct opponents and stream forward. They used the handpass with dangerous abandon as they ran. At times this was effective, such as Masten’s reflex handpass over his head, as he was tackled. At other times they would give off hospital passes to teammates with no space, resulting in quick turnovers. I think for the most part the strategy was right, but some of the decision making was where they fell down.
Sheppard marked a defensive kick out and put the ball back into attacking 50 where Darling took a strong mark and goaled from his set shot. The Tigers replied almost immediately when McGovern gave away an unnecessary free in a marking contest. Vickery went back and kicked accurately. At this point, goals were coming almost too quickly for me to take note of. The next centre clearance was brilliantly won by West Coast and ended with Gaff finding Darling on the lead, but the Eagles forward missed the set shot and wasted the good work, which at least gave me a chance to catch up.
Soon after Vlastuin fumbled badly in defence and eventually got the ball under control as he was set upon by Eagles. His handpass put his teammates in trouble and the spilled ball was picked and by Cripps who made no mistake from close range. Another lightning centre clearance featuring some more ambitious handballing saw Sheed mark inside 50 and goal, as West Coast threatened to pull away.
After making some errors in the first quarter, Scott Sellwood had been rarely sighted in the second quarter, but he bobbed up again with a poor handpass that saw Martin run way with the turnover and bounce the ball through with a banana from outside 50.
The new interpretation of ducking the head started to confuse the umpires a little soon after. Rance clearly ducked as he was tackled in front of goal and was lucky Kennedy wasn’t awarded the free kick, I thought. Shortly after Sellwood was penalised (price he pays for having the name Sellwood I suppose) in a similar situation while, LeCras was penalised for bending down to pick up the ball and letting his momentum carry him into a tackler. This was the interpretation I had been expecting, but it seemed to come and go with a few other decision such as the previous one to Rance treated in the more traditional manner.
Corey Ellis was subbed off for the Tigers before half time and the debutant Menadue came on. He showed some promising early signs, having some good early possessions. After their early goals, the Eagles were struggling to break down the Tiger defence. They still looked dangerous from stoppages, but weren’t giving their forwards much of a chance with their forward 50 entries. The Tigers on the other hand came roaring back. Edwards ran away from another stoppage on the wing and hit Vickery on the lead and the big forward converted from 40m out with little angle to worry about.
Just before half time, Cotchin dropped at the knees and drew a high tackle free inside 50. Correct decision from the umpire, but perhaps shows the new interpretation of ducking is still pretty inconsistent. When he converted the kick, the Richmond captain put his team back in front for the first time in the game.
The second half started very similar to the first, with Naitanui winning it down to Shuey who burst out of the centre and kicked into the forward line. I felt a little sorry for those two as they were clearly working hard to win the ball, but often when they shared it with their teammates they saw the ball squandered. It is kind of how I feel about paying tax and council rates.
After a couple of attacks from either side which were about as fruitless as Coles Finest orange juice, Chris Masten broke through the centre and kicked over the back of the defence, allowing Cripps to run on, fumble, finally gather the ball and goal. After wrenching back the lead, the Eagles began to go on with it, using the ball noticeably better in their attacking half.
Wellingham marked and kicked to Kennedy, who was held onto by Rance and goaled from the resultant free kick. Shortly after McGovern ran onto a dangerous handball from a teammate coming out of defence. He shrugged a tackle from Vickery, setting off a chain of running handballs finishing with Sheed kicking to Kennedy at the edge of 50 and the big forward converted. LeCras goaled shortly afterwards, coming across the front of a pack to mark and take the Eagles lead out to around four goals.
Again the Tigers tried to counter attack. Riewoldt took a really powerful mark just outside 50 and chipped in to Deledio, who I had never thought of as a strong mark. He proved me wrong this time, taking a great mark despite close attention of Xavier Ellis and kicking a goal from the set shot. Yeo responded almost immediately though, snapping a quick goal as he was tackled at a stoppage.
I remember being surprised to see McGovern taking a kick in for West Coast, as he is one of their best marks. I can’t claim I could have predicted the resulting goal that came after a contested ball ricocheted of Naitanui’s foot to go out of bounds on the full. The resulting kick towards goal bobbled and allowed Riewoldt to steady and snap through. The Eagles were almost away with yet another centre clearance from the next bounce, but a desperate spoil from Cotchin reversed the momentum of play and nearly saw Riewoldt take another mark close to goal. The scrambling Eagles’ defence just did enough and West Coast went in to the final break with a handy lead of 14 points.
By now the Eagles were looking the better side. In the second half, the threat of the Tigers’ tall forward line was about as meaningful as Nick and Sarah Jensen’s threat to divorce over gay marriage. The Tiger midfield just couldn’t get enough of the ball or use it well enough, while the Eagles’ defence did enough to quell most attacks that did come.
Richmond finally won the first centre clearance, albeit from Naitanui’s tap down, but couldn’t make a scoring chance. They looked promising coming out of defence when, Chaplin and Vickery took consecutive strong contested marks, but again broke down entering attacking 50.
Grimes and Cotchin were both awarded frees for high tackles when there again could have been some hint of ducking. After the Cotchin one, West Coast gave away 50 when Kennedy infringed in the protected space. I wondered at the time if there was much advantage to the 50- as Richmond had looked almost more dangerous on their own half-back line. Sure enough, the Eagles pushed back in numbers and set up a crowded defence that repelled the resultant free kick.
Rance was unlucky to have a mark not payed and then be penalised for throwing the ball back too hard. The ball was whisked quickly into the Eagles’ forward line where Sellwood marked only to miss a sitter. Shortly afterward, Yeo took a massive mark in attack but also couldn’t convert as the Eagles left the door ajar for a Richmond comeback. West Coast finally goaled again on the back of some hard running by Schofield, who took off out of defence, exchanged handballs with Gaff before putting it out for Darling to mark in front of the pack. The Eagles’ forward converted from 40 metres out to push the margin back to almost four goals and make it a long way back for the Tigers. Sadly for Schofield this was one of his last involvements in the game as he hobbled off injured a short time later after being hurt in a marking contest. The Eagles, having already subbed off Cripps for Duggan were down a player on the bench but there was not enough time for this to become a factor.
The Richmond midfield continued to work hard. Martin’s running with the ball and laser passing was still a feature and he found Riewoldt within scoring range with another spearing pass, only for the forward to let him down with his set shot. Richmond pressed briefly and in a short space of time and West Coast were having trouble with their kick outs. They seemed to be aiming for an outnumbered Naitanui, who was being well beaten and the ball was quickly reclaimed by the Tigers. Unfortunately for Richmond, they missed a number of shots for goals, with only three behinds and a marked ball on the goal line to show for it. It might have got pretty interesting at this point if they had kicked with a little more accuracy, but Eagles fans might also point out the Eagles missed some very gettable goals this quarter as well.
The final scoring attempt of the game was a little comical. When a long kick for goal was marked deep in defence by McGovern, the Eagles defender undid his good work when he missed an unpressured short kick to a team mate and put it out of bounds on the full. Luckily for McGovern, Troy Chaplin was the closest Richmond player and he kicked for goal like a true defender.
The final margin was 20 points to the Eagles and that seemed pretty fair in my view. Once they improved their attacking play in the second half they looked the better team and deserved winners.
At three quarter time, I'd have given BOG to Nic Naitanui. He wasn't getting huge stats but his strength and athleticism around the ground had been telling on a number of occasions. West Coast looked dangerous at every stoppage he was involved with. He had a bit less impact in the last term, perhaps as a result of the Richmond mids starting to read where he was tapping the ball to. Andrew Gaff and the star of Lego Movie got a lot of the ball, but overall Best on Ground was Dustin Martin, who did everything he could have to get his side over the line. He won the ball himself and held off tackles with his trademark don't argue. He ran hard when in possession and looked to attack through the corridor. Aside from the three goals he kicked, his accurate passing was also a feature throughout the game (I’m giving him a little leniency for the two missed shots and his haircut, as the rest of his game was almost flawless).
Despite a couple of silly free kicks given away, there weren’t too many tempers on show so there were no obvious recipients for the Snickers Award. But one player in particular didn't seem himself. The stats will show Scott Sellwood had plenty of the ball but he had an absolutely awful game. He was caught holding the ball, kicked it out on the full and missed an easy goal in the last quarter. He was also guilty of a number of hospital balls that set his teammates up to get crunched. I will give him some credit for being one of the players who made sure Cotchin had little impact on the game, as evidenced by the Richmond captain giving away a free for striking Sellwood in the last term. Still, as a former club Best and Fairest winner, Sellwood is a better player than what he showed tonight. Obviously there is a bit of rust there, but if I was Adam Simpson I would have got that man a Snickers at half time.